My lovely friend Sara wanted to hear more about the Second Helpings boys. I promised her an epilogue type scene for her birthday.
“Since when have you had an interest in King Arthur?” Paul sniffed and stamped his feet. The English winter had done its usual trick of being warm one day and perishing cold the next and, Sod’s law applying, the weather had turned cold the day they were out and about, rather than being snuggled up at home. But Stuart had insisted they come and freeze their arses off in Winchester.
“Isn’t every boy interested in King Arthur?” Stuart produced his usual charming smile.
“I preferred Robin Hood.” Paul sniffed again. At least the Winchester Christmas market—in the cathedral close—had been compensation for the semi-Arctic temperatures and the mulled wine had warmed him up for a while. The comforting heat had waned about halfway up the hill to the Great Hall, when a chill east wind came driving down, probably straight from Siberia and directly in their faces.
“Bit chilly round the Trossachs,” Stuart said, with another cheeky grin. “But it’ll be worth it, I promise.”
“Hm.” Paul had never really had an interest in history, or old buildings, so this place he was being dragged to was going to have to be something pretty special to really be worth the trip. Even the promise of an early dinner at one of the many enticing restaurants he’d been hurried past wasn’t quite incentive enough to wear a smile. Stuart wouldn’t have been able to see it, anyway, given that Paul was swathed up in a scarf, so it wasn’t worth the effort. “So it’s an old hall. What’s so special about it?”
“It’s not just old. It goes back eight hundred years. Raleigh was tried there.”
Paul rolled his eyes. “Nutty Walt doesn’t impress me, either. And the round table isn’t the real thing, is it? Later repro.”
“Yeah, well 1290 is later, but it’s hardly modern day Disney style repro.” Stuart sounded remarkably patient, given the provocation he was under and given that patience wasn’t necessarily his strongest suit. Maybe this table really was something special.
“Do you want to go down and look at the old tunnels on the way? No, don’t reply, it was a silly question.” Stuart puffed out his cheeks. “Here, we’ll go up by the old gatehouse, save facing the steps.”
They’d reached the top of the hill, where the old walls reached their westward limit, although little was left of them, when Stuart grabbed Paul’s shoulders and turned him to see the view.
“Impressive, isn’t it?”
Paul had, grudgingly, to agree. The main street marching down the hill and up again the other side of the river valley; even without the Christmas lights it looked a picture.
“And now…” Stuart spun him round again, to face an impressive building, more ecclesiastical from the outside than regal. “That’s impressive, too, I think.”
“Let’s look at the inside before I commit myself.”
Stuart grinned a third time—that had to mean trouble—seemed like he was going to say something, then just grabbed Paul’s arm to drag him up to and through the door.
He hadn’t been lying. The place was stunning, from the stained glass to the family tree type decoration on the walls, to the table itself, hanging imposingly on the west wall.
“Okay. You’re right. It’s great.” Paul patted Stuart’s shoulder. “I’m glad you brought me.”
“I’ll resist saying ‘I told you so’,” he replied, although the smug expression plastered on his face said it for him. “Come on, let’s be tourists.”
There was plenty to be touristy about. Not just the incredibly detailed embellishments of the hall itself, but the repro medieval garden to go with the repro Arthurian table, which must have been stunning in the spring.
“Maybe we should come here again,” Stuart said, once they were back in the main hall and admiring, for maybe the third time, the board around which Lancelot and Galahad and all the boys in the band supposedly sat, only not really. “In the summer or spring, when that garden’s going to be looking at its best.”
“I’d be up for that. There must be plenty to see here. Maybe make a weekend of it.”
“Great minds think alike.” Stuart nodded. “There are some lovely hotels round and about.”
Paul stopped, turning Stuart to face him. The bloke was up to something. “Was that your plan all along? A sprat to catch a citybreak mackerel?”
“Nearly. This isn’t just a tourist trap.” Stuart fished in his pocket, bringing out a brochure, which was a bit crumpled from being hidden away. He thrust it in Paul’s hand. “They do other stuff.”
Paul unfolded the paper, blinked, looked at it again, then broke into a grin. “You sneeky bugger. Is this a proposal?”
“I think so. I mean I could go down on my knees if you want, but there’s a party of old women over there who might get offended.” Stuart couldn’t hide his delighted smile.
“They’re from Manchester. I overheard them. They’d love it.” Paul drew his partner in for a hug. “I can’t think of anywhere better to do it. Have a civil partnership, I mean. Do anything else and even the lasses from “Oop north” would be offended.”
“I do love you, you great plonker.” Stuart squeezed him, then slipped out of the hug. “And is this a ‘yes’, by the way? I’d hate to assume anything.”
“It’s a ‘yes’. Your Aunt Catherine can get herself a brand new hat.”
“I suspect she’s been planning a wedding outfit since she met you.” Stuart smiled. “She seems to feel we were meant for each other.”
“Best please the old bat, then.” Paul looked up at the table again. “I read a quote somewhere, once. Can’t remember who said it nor the context, but it was something like, ‘Arthur without Excalibur was still Arthur’.”
“Right.” Stuart looked puzzled.
“She probably thinks that Stuart without Paul isn’t quite the Stuart he should be.” Paul stopped, surprised by the expression on his partner’s face. “Are you okay?”
“Yes, of course. Only don’t say anything else or I might just burst into tears.” Stuart took a deep breath. “My Lancelot.”
“Lancelot was a pillock. I’d rather be your Galahad or somebody with a bit of spine.” Paul ploughed on, aware that Stuart might well up at any moment. “But at present this knight just wants to say, ‘yes, I will’ then go and crack open a bottle of something.”
“You’re on. We’ll make a ‘knight’ of it.”
Paul groaned. Was this what he was going to shackle himself up to? He looked at Stuart’s deliriously happy, if slightly soppy smile, and thought, “Yeah. Why not?”